The Value of Intangibles: Building soft skills can ensure a successful internship

The Value of Intangibles: Building soft skills can ensure a successful internship

BII+E alumni, Kayla Zhu, shares some tips and tricks for interns looking to make the most out of their experience.
The Value of Intangibles: Building soft skills can ensure a successful internship
Kayla Zhu
Communications Intern
September 20, 2021
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When I look back on my four months with the Brookfield Institute, on the surface, I mostly remember struggling over word counts on Twitter, waiting for my video files to export on Premiere Pro and writing a lot. Like many interns, I dwell on the things I got done – the content and assets that I created and put out into the world. But when I really reflect back on my internship experience, I realize that the soft skills and intangibles – a term I picked up from one of Brookfield’s reports – that I gained here are what stands out to me as the most valuable takeaways.

It’s hard to quantify what I’ve learned and experienced at the Brookfield Institute this past summer. With each new report I helped to promote on social media, or every commentary piece I helped to edit for the website, I learned something new, thought about our economic systems a bit differently and, of course, became a better communicator. By the end of my internship, I developed tips and tricks for how to maximize my time and efforts as a communications intern for a) an organization with so much information to share and b) a virtual workplace. Here’s my guide to how communications interns can make the most of their time during a virtual placement at a research institute or similar organization. 

Write down all your ideas and take notes during meetings

There’s no shortage of people preaching the value of organization, and I’m one of them. Being a communications team member, you’re often working on multiple projects at the same time, helping out with social media and doing organization-wide work. And of course, being an intern means you’re constantly learning the ropes of the organization, figuring out who’s who and deciphering acronyms (and at Brookfield, there are a lot of acronyms). That’s to say, there’s a lot to keep track of, and there’s also a lot of ideas floating around – during meetings, over Slack, or while you’re making your morning coffee – that often don’t get captured or organized properly. I made a habit of taking notes during most meetings, whether that was by hand or on my Notion page, even for seemingly random tidbits of information or ideas. At my weekly check-ins with my manager, Lianne, I took lots of notes on potential things I could work on or pitch in the future, which led to things like this jurisdiction scan or a Twitter thread for National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Sometimes ideas might not work for a given project or social campaign you’re working on, but could be applied to something you’re working on down the road. 

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“With each new report I helped to promote on social media, or every commentary piece I helped to edit for the website, I learned something new, thought about our economic systems a bit differently and, of course, became a better communicator.”

Kayla Zhu

Look for ways to make the most of your content through different formats

Coming into the Brookfield Institute, one of the biggest things the communications team wanted to focus on was elevating our social media presence by using more multimedia elements – quote cards, simple data visualizations, and even short videos. There was a lot of room for me to experiment with different social strategies given Brookfield’s seemingly endless bank of knowledge and reports to promote. For interns working on promoting huge reports or hours-long events, I highly suggest turning to different formats – blog posts, Twitter threads, short videos, for example – to make the most of your institute’s content. For example, I live-tweeted the last workshop of Overcoming Digital Divides, an event series Brookfield was partnered on, quoting the speakers and linking to our relevant research in the thread. Wanting to promote the previous workshops that I had missed, I put together another thread on the very first event from that series and cut together one-minute video clips from the event recording with captions. Both initiatives were a great learning experience for me in live-tweeting and video editing, and were a creative and fun way to promote an event that we normally just share a link to.

Come prepared to meetings with ideas and questions

One of the major drawbacks of remote work is that you’re not able to have those quick, side-of-the-desk brainstorm sessions or bring up a brief question to your co-worker. Slack messages usually suffice, but nothing beats a good, focussed conversation. Coming prepared to meetings and check-ins with questions, ideas, and any challenges you’re having can be really helpful in enhancing your workflow and developing new ideas. I found that bringing up a quick point or question during calls was much more effective and efficient than sending a lengthy Slack message or email – which can often get lost in the sea of Slack channels, or just slip people’s memory. 

Thank you!

Thank you so much to the Brookfield team for welcoming me into the institute and giving me a great internship opportunity. Special shout out to Michelle Park for organizing this wonderful program and making sure we got the most of a virtual placement. Thank you for being there for me and Kamilah Ebrahim, checking in with us and celebrating our successes. I was so lucky to work alongside the brilliant Policy + Research intern, Kamilah, and I’ll definitely miss our Slack chats on things to eat in Toronto. Thank you to Lianne for being such a kind, empathetic leader and mentor and encouraging me to work on projects I was passionate about – I learned so much from you. And a final big thanks to the communications team, Jessica Thomson and Nina Rafeek, for being such supportive and uplifting team members for the time I was here.

For media enquiries, please contact Lianne George, Director of Strategic Communications at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Kayla Zhu
Communications Intern
September 20, 2021
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